It has felt like one of the longest weeks I've been through in quite some time. I don't even really know where to begin so chances are, this will be one of those blogs that takes me a long time to write and edit. Hopefully you're happening in on the finished product.
There are a lot of different topics I could talk about in relation to this week, many of them quite painful but I have decided to bring the focus of this particular entry back to my son Justin's first 3 days of middle school.
If you're new to my blog, Justin is our oldest son. He's going to be 11 in October and he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome a little over two years ago, shortly after our youngest son, Ryan (now 4) was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Both boys have additional co-morbidities including Sensory Processing Disorder. Although they are both on the autism spectrum and do have many things in common, their challenges often present quite differently. This can be said for many spectrum children, teens and adults. It can also be said for males versus females on the autism spectrum. Incidentally, I also am an Aspie but grew up undiagnosed, not truly knowing of my own place on the spectrum until a little over a year ago while attending the Autism Society of America conference in St. Charles, IL.
One thing though that seems to be a common denominator, at least in our family is that unexpected changes in schedule or routine can be a major issue, especially if the change is big. Depending on the situation, there can be meltdowns, depression, embarrassment, rage and a whole gamut of emotions and issues to work with as the person going through the experience tries processing what he/she is feeling. The intensity of the response is often unpredictable. Social stories and visual drawings can help depending on the age and the person. Role playing can be useful. Sometimes you just have to ride the wave of the meltdown.
I bring this up because this year, Justin transitioned from 5th grade at one elementary school to 6th grade at a large middle school (6th, 7th and 8th). We started preparing for this transition a year in advance, knowing he would have so many kinds of changes such as switching classes, having multiple teachers, losing recess (sensory break time), using a locker, having PE (changing clothes in front of others), not having familiarity with the school layout or many of the people, etc. John and I worked hard to make sure Justin's IEP was written with specific goals and accommodations in mind and that he would get to be a part of the school's SCIP program (Social Communication Integration Program) which was designed specifically to have his core classes and electives as inclusive as possible (mainstreamed with other 6th graders) but to have one half class every day where he is working on social skills, life skills, study and organization skills and given the opportunity for a sensory break.
Additionally, we walked the campus multiple times to give him a familiarity, role-played certain situations (like how to ask for food plain while in the lunch line without feeling embarrassed) and made sure we were an active part of the school's Middle School Orientation day that happened on Wednesday, August 26th.
That in itself was QUITE an adventure and as a bonus provided extra blog material and comedy for Aspierations viewing readers. If you'd like, check out:
http://aspierations.blogspot.com/2010/08/justins-middle-school-orientation.html - Part 1
http://aspierations.blogspot.com/2010/08/justins-middle-school-orientation-part.html - Part 2
(Part 2 is guaranteed to give you a laugh, a wince or both!)
The end result of the orientation was Justin feeling positive about his new school, 5 new teachers and new schedule. He memorized all his classroom numbers, all his teacher names, the schedule times and although he was nervous when school started on Wednesday, September 1st (a week later), he headed off into his first day with positive energy and lots of spirit. We thought the first day we would drop him off and then let him ride the bus home. John and I were incredibly proud of him for his amazing attitude and looked forward to hearing about his first day when he got home in the afternoon.
Bagel & Cream Cheese for breakfast and Mom's tasty chocolate muffins!
Saying good-bye to Dad and Ryan
Heading off to 1st Period Math -- or so he thought...
Okay... so remember that part above where I mentioned unexpected changes in schedule or routine can be a major issue, especially if the change is big? So get this....
When Justin came home, it was with a good spirit and we wanted to hear all about his day. I know that he was trying to stay upbeat but something was amiss.
Here's a Reader's Digest version of what happened.
1. Justin went to his first period math class and got in early. He gave a bag of requested school supplies to the teacher. So far, so good. He was enjoying the class and the teacher and starting to settle in when attendance was taken. Justin's name was not on the roster despite us and him having a printout of the schedule from the previous week's orientation. -- Hmm...
2. Justin was sent to the Counseling Office to see what the mix-up was. (It was announced over the loudspeaker that if any students were not on their classroom roster that this is what they should do.) -- Already Justin was feeling embarrassed and confused but he did what was told and was SUCH a trooper!
3. Someone at the Counseling Office took his name and rather than check the schedule on their computer, sent him back to class asking him to tell the teacher to print out a new roster after class. - ????
4. Justin went back and finished 1st period math. He left his backpack in his 3rd period classroom as it was the portable right next to first period and the teacher had recommended during orientation that they do this so they don't have to worry about the locker situation.
5. He then went to his 2nd period first half-class, CEO Boot Camp. That went great. Leadership, training, entrepreneurship, marketing, computers, video games... awesome!
6. He then went to 2nd period (2nd half) which was his SCIP class. We had not met this teacher at orientation night and had been told that the elective teachers were not on campus, just the core teachers (periods 1, 3 & 4). We had looked for her anyway after we were done with orientation but with no luck.
7. He was then told in his 2nd period class that his CORE schedule had ENTIRELY changed. He went from Math (in the portables), English / Language Arts (in the portables) & Science (in the 6th grade hall) with 3 teachers we had already met to English / Languages Arts (in 6th grade hall), Science (6th grade hall) and Math (6th grade hall) with 3 completely different teachers.
8. He had been marked as an unexcused absence from his first period English (because he was in what he thought was his first period Math). He had his backpack in a completely different classroom and the teachers he was switching to did not allow backpacks in class, only in lockers. (If you read my previous blogs about Middle School Orientation, Justin tried dozens of times with no luck in getting his locker open. I had to try many times myself and it is NOT easy.)
9. No explanation was given to him why but we later learned that the schedules had been changed for many of the SCIP kids over the previous weekend. The school had our email, they had our phone number. No contact... no attempt to try and reach our son first period.
Seriously... out of ANY of the students in the school who you would change schedules on, why would it be the children with Asperger's / Autism Spectrum Disorder? We asked Justin how many people were at the Counseling Office during the time he was there who also had schedule roster issues and he said, maybe 2 or 3. So it was just the kids in SCIP???
Let's just say that John and I were fuming inside but tried to keep cool for Justin's sake.
10. The SCIP teacher did introduce him to a teacher's aide which helped him and another boy navigate around for the rest of the day. He had to get his backpack from a different class. Many of his school supplies were (and still are) in his original first period classroom.
I just know that God was watching out for Justin. While at school, he handled all the transitions and change like a trooper! We were and are SO proud of him.
Later of course, we called the school and I left voicemail and I sent off a lot of emails (friendly but professional and quite concerned). It took our son an extra hour to get to sleep that night because by then he had processed the situation and had told us he was scared to go back to school the next day. He was afraid of the lockers. He was afraid of having missed his first period English because he was in the wrong classroom. He was afraid he'd make mistakes. It was all things that could have been easily avoided. We spent a lot of time with him in his room commending him and reassuring him we would make things right and that his second day would be a much better day....
Fortunately, it was... and I will share more about that with you when I blog again soon, Middle School Mania - Part 2: When Things Do Not Go As Planned.
I welcome you to come back and visit again. Ever heard the saying, "if you paid the tuition, you might as well get the lesson?" Well, through adversity often comes strength and growth and although our son definitely did not have an optimal first day of middle school, we all took away some lessons about flexibility, adaptability, remaining cool under pressure, praying for guidance and knowing that even if you tried to prepare for a year to remove obstacles, sometimes new unforeseen ones are thrown right in your path.
It has been one of those weeks, Aspierations friends. Things have not gone as planned. But with each adversity, I paid the tuition, so might as well get the lesson as well.
Looking forward to blogging to you again!